Disruption in the Digital Age
The concept of disruption, or disruptive innovation has in recent years taken on a life of its own. It usually refers to any digital service that makes waves, especially if that service has something to do with data or AI. But, the term was first coined by scholar Clayton M. Christensen, the term originally described a process, usually sparked by a new product or service, that begins on the fringes of an industry, eventually transforms that industry, and causes those within to reevaluate its place within the market.
The sheer number of industry disruptions in the past two decades can now cause us to see the term in a slightly different light. The Googles, the Facebooks, the Ubers and AirBnBs of the world have rocked their respective industries so thoroughly that the fallout has been felt across society at large.
This association of the term with complete upheaval causes some to react to the mention of “disruption” with hesitation, suspicion, and sometimes fear. But at second glance, the concept is nothing new. Disruptive innovation has occurred throughout history as a way to empower workers, adapt to changing needs, and try something works a little better.
Disruption can be seen in a negative light, but we should think about it in terms of doing something differently, against the grain. It’s a way to keep up with the times, and it always has been. The way in which we share information, view the world around us, and relate to each other has shifted by magnitudes in the past few decades; therefore, disruption and change is essential to moving forward in a way that makes sense in the context of our times.
Tech Can Cause an Industry Shift
It’s been this way for as long as we’ve been using technological innovations (which is to say, forever). Look at entertainment in the past hundred years: radio disrupted the vaudeville and theatre market. The advent of cinema disrupted the radio market. Television turned Cinema on its head. And then along came Netflix. None of these services disappeared due to the disruption; however, the constant evolution of technology in response to the changing demands of the public shifted the way these services were packaged for viewers. Each evolution allowed previous iterations to tell different kinds of stories that may not have existed if the market had not been disrupted. In short, the market evolved, new possibilities emerged, and consumer expectations changed. The disrupted had to change as well to keep up, often to their benefit.
You can find examples regardless of the market. Coal to kerosene to petroleum to gasoline. Floppy disk to smaller floppy disk to CD to USB to cloud. Model T to Ferrari. The same can be said for organizations that are starting to use data and AI – widely considered disruptive – to change the way they do things. Growing pressures to do more, quicker, with increasing accuracy is prompting those organizations to explore new possibilities opened up by technological evolution. Times have changed, demands have changed, and we have to change in turn.
Disruption as Empowerment
This evolution is largely a good thing. But, as we evolve, we need to keep a pulse on the people who drive that demand. Disruptive innovations are, and always have been, a way to make people’s lives easier and more enjoyable. Especially in the case of AI and data, the technology allows people to cut through the noise and concentrate on what’s most important and valuable to them. People are at the core of these disruptive innovations, and they always should be. Therefore, focusing on thoughtful disruption that serves to augment people is critical for the continued innovation, iteration, and evolution.
Leveraging data and AI to remain competitive, become better organized, and empower ourselves is the next logical step in our technical advancement. And while the technology is certainly disruptive, it should not be seen as cause for hesitation. Embracing change while keeping the human in the loop can lead us down a path of new innovation and exciting possibilities. Our times are changing, our tech is changing, but the people at the centre remain.
Lixar is participating in a panel on disruption at the Annual Digital Open Government Forum in Ottawa, November 26th. “The Evolution of Digital Technology – Where Do We Go From Here?” examines how we’re learning from the past to prepare for the future. Jim Provost and Shelley Fraser are set to dig into how data and AI are set to transform industries, and how technology is poised to empower.