Disruption, from business term to marketing tool and useless buzzword

Disruption is a process: a small company with limited resources is able to anticipate the needs of consumers in the future and successfully challenges established businesses.

Small companies with a disruptive idea, business, service or product will not be successful in a flash because they are anticipating consumer’s needs. Only a minority of these consumers will be interested at the beginning. In this situation, established businesses do not feel threatened by these new players that require time to grow.

However, step by step, these small companies are growing and attracting the mainstream consumers, this is where disruption happens. The established businesses did not anticipate a proper counterattack and want to retain their consumers. To do so, they realize small changes or improvements displayed as disruption. These companies simply use disruption as a marketing tool to retain consumers.

Now, more and more companies are using this word for marketing and it became a mainstream word. As we can see on the graph below, the use of “disruption” has exponentially increased during the last decade.

[...] established businesses do not feel threatened by these new players that require time to grow.
The Ubiquitous Disruptive Innovation
"Disruption" as part of the pupular business lexicon (Source: https://hbr.org/2015/12/what-is-disruptive-innovation)

Nowadays, people tend to believe that every new successful player is a disruptor. That is not the case: for example, Uber services are not a disruption. The company did not start by appealing to low end or unserved consumers, their services directly hit the mainstream market.

By using this term in every innovative situation, we lose the essence of disruption. This word is now simply a buzzword used by big companies but also startups to attract consumers and investors. We believe that to succeed a company must “disrupt”.

One of the best examples of this situation is TechCrunch’s conference, “Disrupt” with a competition to reward the most disruptive startups. When we look at some winners between 2010 and 2012 we have (Source).

  • Quiki, a company that helps create video presentations
  • Getaround, an AirBnB for car rental
  • Shaker that allows users to hang out in an online environment with avatars
  • ÜberConference to make audio conferences more bearable

None of them are truly disruptive even if their ideas are interesting.

It might be time to get rid of this buzzword and find a more specific term for the real disruptions. Indeed when you think about it: What isn’t disruptive these days?

Nowadays, people tend to believe that every new successful player is a disruptor. That is not the case.

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